Medical groups looking to staff collaborative care teams


Forming and maintaining care teams – especially in primary care – will be among the industry’s most significant challenges in the era of ACOs and medical homes, according to the Cejka Search and American Medical Group Association’s (AMGA) 2011 Physician Retention Survey, released March 12.

Cejka and AMGA said the survey is the first to include staffing and turnover benchmarks for both advanced practitioners and physician staffing. The turnover rate for both nurse practitioners and physician assistants reported by the survey is 12.6 percent, which nearly doubles the combined, adjusted physician turnover rate of 6.0 percent. The combination of a projected physician shortage and already high turnover for nurse practitioners and physician assistants places even more pressure on medical groups to use advanced practitioners to fill the gaps in patient care and compensate them appropriately, the report noted.

“Recruiting and retaining physicians and advanced practitioners is more critical now than ever,” said Lori Schutte, president, Cejka Search.  “In the previous year’s survey, the majority of groups told us that the medical home model would deliver a competitive advantage in recruiting primary care physicians and advanced practitioners.  But finding, hiring and keeping them is a growing challenge.  Medical groups need to be prepared to hire the candidates that are the best fit for their organization.”

“As organizations seek to meet these staffing demands, it is important to recognize that the qualities once sought in a physician or advanced practitioner five years ago have changed along with the health care environment,” said Donald W. Fisher, PhD, CAE, AMGA president and CEO. “Collaboration and teamwork are significantly more important to medical groups and health systems because care models and performance measures require it. The ability to work effectively as a member of an accountable care team becomes a valued skill for physicians and advanced practitioners who increasingly will partner with colleagues in primary care, hospital medicine, a wide range of specialties and subspecialties and allied health.”

More than two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents from the 2011 survey reported that the involvement of advanced practitioners in their groups has grown “somewhat” or “significantly” in the past five years. This response increases to 75 percent when looking ahead toward the next five years. The respondents also identified 21 percent and 13 percent growth in new positions, respectively, for physician assistants and nurse practitioners in their groups in the past 12 months.

Hiring primary care physicians and advanced practice providers is a priority for most of the responding groups.  Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of the responding groups reported that they would hire more or significantly more primary care physicians in the next 12 months, than they did in the prior year. This was particularly noticeable among groups between 150 and 500 physicians and those in integrated delivery systems.  No groups reported that they would reduce their primary care staffing. Plans for hiring more specialists were only slightly less aggressive.

In 2011, turnover in the first two years after a physician joins a practice was 14 percent, followed by 11 percent for the next two years, and more than 8 percent between years three and five, according to survey results. Once a physician has stayed at a practice for five years, the physician is more likely to stay.

The 2010 survey identified that turnover can cost as much as $1 million per physician when all recruitment, start-up and lost revenue costs are totaled. The 2011 survey took it one step further, finding the average interview cost per vacancy is $31,090.

The survey also looked at physician scheduling. Key finding in that area included:

  • One in five (22 percent) male physicians and 44 percent of female physicians are reported to be working part-time by survey respondents in 2011. (Looking back at responses from 2005, only 7 percent of male physicians and 29 percent of female physicians reported working part-time.)
  • Flexible work options are key to physician retention; 75 percent of groups offer a four-day full-time work week.
  • Male physicians approaching retirement and female physicians entering the workforce are the most likely groups to look for part-time and flexible scheduling options, as they are the two fastest growing populations in the physician workforce. 

In regard to performance-based incentives, the following finding were noteworthy:

  • Pay structures and incentives have changed in the past five years to focus on outcomes for quality, efficiency and satisfaction, yet the survey found no clear indicators show a consensus about the role of incentives toward these outcomes.
  • About half the survey respondents indicated that primary care physicians are incented “somewhat more” or “significantly more” for both quality (52 percent) and satisfaction (50 percent) than they were five years ago. 
  • Incentives to achieve efficiency will need to become more compelling; 44 percent of respondents think that driving changes in practice efficiency outcomes would require incentive compensation of at least 10 percent.

The survey was distributed electronically via e-mail to 2,823 medical organizations, representing both AMGA medical group members and non-members. Survey data was collected from November 2011 through January 2012. A total of 80 survey responses were compiled, representing a 2.8 percent survey response rate. In 2011, the 80 respondents collectively employed 14,366 physicians.

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